When Jalen Hurts signed with Alabama in 2016, it signaled a shift in philosophies for the Crimson Tide’s offensive staff. Ever since Nick Saban took over the Alabama program in 2007, his starting quarterbacks, in order, have been: John Parker Wilson, Greg McElroy, A.J. McCarron, Blake Sims, and Jake Coker. All of these quarterbacks have been the traditional drop back, pro-style game manager types. There was a reason for that. Bama has had NFL caliber tailbacks on their roster since Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa. Glen Coffee, Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson (I know “NFL caliber” is debatable on that one), Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon, and Derrick Henry all transitioned their success pounding the rock into NFL careers. Saban’s teams thrived on lining up in pro sets and stuffing the ball up the gut.
You can see their pro-style offense at work here:
Even when the Tide was in the gun, the primary focus was getting the ball downhill to one of their talented running backs. The receivers were going out to block. Run pass option wasn’t in the game plan. Saban’s teams thrived on being bigger and stronger up front and they pounded the ball in traditional 11, 12, and 21 personnel sets.
Fast forward to 2016. The Tide signed one of the top dual threat quarterbacks in the country in Hurts. Hurts beat out Blake Barnett early in the 2016 season and the spread run pass option era of Crimson Tide offensive football began. If you go back to the couple of seasons before Hurts arrived in Tuscaloosa, you’ll see elements of spread RPO in the offense, but Hurts’ arrival really put the Tide offense on the RPO fast track.
One of the schemes the Tide offense has employed is the spread midline. What was once a staple of old school triple option teams has seen a resurgence as offensive coordinators find new (old) ways to put defenders in conflict.
Hurts is reading the defender that follows the receiver in jet motion. Bama obviously game planned for man free when they got into an empty set. It the Texas A&M defender sat and passed off the motion in zone coverage, Hurts would give the ball on the jet sweep. The result is huge hole for Hurts to run through.
Here is a look at the give to the running back using the exact same scheme where the back replaces the jet sweep motion:
Another play that I really like (I broke this down in my article on the Kansas City Chiefs RPO schemes) is the inverted power combined with the shovel option. Last year, with a dangerous weapon in O.J. Howard lining up all over the field for the Tide, Bama used him as the shovel option in this scheme.
Hurts shows speed option to the two receiver side. He’s reading the play side defensive end for the speed option pitch. If the end sits he pitches the ball to the tailback. But, the Aggie defenders dialed up a stunt. When the defensive line slants away from the option, it gives him a shovel pitch read. The back picks up the blitz from the blitzing nickel DB and the backside guard wraps for the strong side linebacker. The slanting defensive line is enveloped by the down blocks of the play side offensive lineman. Howard runs the shovel option path, makes a couple defenders miss, and gets the Tide a first down.
The Tide have also shown an interesting take on the split inside zone / bubble screen RPO scheme.
Bama lines up in a 12 personnel compressed 2×2 formation. They run inside zone to the left and Calvin Ridley shows split zone action by running to the right. The two tight ends base block the two EMOL defenders. Hurts takes his eyes to the overhang to the right of the formation. The slot on the right takes a step inside to check the overhang, and when he comes up into the C gap to play run, he takes his path outside to block the cornerback. Ridley turns towards the QB, and Hurts gets him the ball with space and a blocker in front of him for a four yard touchdown.
It will be interesting to see if Alabama continues to delve deeper into the run pass option offensive world, or if this is just a product of having a special dual threat quarterback like Jalen Hurts in the program. One thing is for certain, Saban and his staff continue to use the players on their roster to find ways to stay a step ahead of the competition.